She used to hate it when an obituary led off with a reference to a person losing their battle with cancer. To her, this sounded like death was a moral failing of someone who didn’t try hard enough.
In Lynne’s case, there could be no accusation around lack of effort.
She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer maybe 15 years ago. (I believe the original diagnosis was Stage 3, but I am unsure of the exact diagnosis and the exact dates. I’ve lived with her living with the disease for so long, I can’t remember.)
According to expert oncologists, she wasn’t supposed to live as long as she did. The fact of her survival against the odds often confounded doctors. More than once, during a recap of a recent doctor visit, she confessed wanting to respond to their incredulity by saying, “Like should I apologize for not fitting your model?”
I could go on for days about things I admired in how she handled her situation from the medical standpoint: how she became her own expert and advocate (on treatment options and clinical trials); how she put up with crazy long-lines for regular tests at County Hospital (being uninsured for most of the time she had the disease, she had to get medical care through public aid); how she lived with an ostomy for the past two years.
I’ve also been amazed by how she took care of her spirit. So many people that she became close to died. (Once you’re in the survivor club, this is unavoidable.) I’m in awe of how she took care of her father over the last few months of his life and did her best to oversee the well-being of her husband and son.
Over her last year or so, she designated her living room couch and nearby end table as the Lynne Zone. In this space, she gave herself permission to come first; to not worry about the demands of her family, to read or watch reality TV or nap all day if she felt like it.
Maybe five weeks ago, she told me, she was not getting the desired results from the last treatment she tried and the doctors advised she had maybe two months left. She elected to go on home hospice and made the Lynne Zone the cornerstone of her operations.
For a few weeks, she welcomed visitors and attended to practical matters, filling a spiral notebook with instructions for her son including things like where to find computer files and what she wanted done with her ashes.
I came to visit her a couple times at her home. I was glad and also felt guilty by how NORMAL she kept things. It wasn’t a normal time. We didn’t avoid talking about her health but we didn’t make that the centerpiece of conversation.
I offered to do anything she thought of. She asked after my niece and my work. She was happy to hear I was planning a vacation for later in the fall.
I was hoping to visit her at home again when she stopped returning my calls. After four days, I left a note for her husband and son in their mail box, asking for an update.
She had been moved to the hospice wing at RUSH, a major medical center in town, where she could be monitored more closely.
I went to visit her there last Wednesday. Her twenty-something year old son was sort of camping out on a big chair by her bed. He shared how she commented on liking the stained glass window there when first settling in.
As he stood over her bed, he said, “Look who’s here? It’s Debbie.”
She looked so small, but she was breathing easily. Her hair was dark and recently combed. I think she would have liked that her nurses or the hospice staff paid attention to this.
Jeffrey explained that she was talking until recently and told me a little about the pain meds she was taking in. I touched her arm lightly.
I just whispered, I LOVE YOU. I don’t know that I could have said or done anything else.
I would like to think she heard me or was aware that I was in the room.
It is hard to see someone you care about not being as full of life as the picture you have of them, but it is a great privilege, an opportunity I’m very thankful for, that I was able to say Goodbye.
Telling someone you love them, even if you’re not sure they can hear you, is no small thing.